Point Reyes National Seashore, seen here from the Lighthouse Trail, stretches north along California's Highway 1.
The greatest value of a road trip is lost on pragmatists but treasured by romantics. Take the 60-mile drive north from San Francisco to Bodega Bay, for example. The fastest route is a teeming inland freeway, Highway 101. But the road worth traveling carves a leisurely path after you cross the Golden Gate Bridge, on scenic, snaking Highway 1. This is a coastal journey of a thousand postcards, along dramatic bluffs and unspoiled beaches, past small farms and vast nature preserves. The speed limit comes naturally as you ease through tiny towns rich in recreational and culinary options, taking in a landscape blissfully beyond development’s reach. As you set out, pull off at Vista Point just across the Golden Gate, gaze back for a fond farewell to San Francisco and its fabled span, and then turn to the pleasures that lie ahead. Marin Convention and Visitors Bureau: 1 Mitchell Blvd., Ste. B, San Rafael, (866) 925-2060, visitmarin.org. Sonoma Coast Visitors Center: 850 Hwy. 1, Bodega Bay, (707) 875-3866, sonomacounty.com.
Area code is 415 unless noted.
- Stinson Beach
The Parkside Café is a sweet breakfast spot that follows the golden rule of real estate. Order eggs Benedict or house-baked biscuits with yogurt and fresh berries, then make the most of the prime location. A footpath behind the restaurant leads to the sandy shoreline that shares Stinson’s name. Those craggy formations on the horizon? They’re the Farallon Islands, more than 20 miles away. 43 Arenal Ave., Stinson Beach, 868-1272, parksidecafe.com.
- Audubon Canyon Ranch
If you’re planning a springtime drive, you can catch the return of egrets and blue herons to their protected nesting grounds three miles north of Stinson Beach. The Martin Griffin Preserve is a research center, but amateur ornithologists flock to it, too. Ponds speckle the property, and the Henderson Overlook provides a perfect vantage point for watching the birds. Open to the public from mid-March to mid-July. 4900 Hwy. 1, 868-9244, egret.org.
- Five Brooks Stables
Hiking trails lattice Point Reyes National Seashore and its stunning coastal ecosystem. But another way to experience the area’s beauty is on horseback. Guided rides along the Stewart Trail, which begins at Five Brooks Stables between Stinson Beach and Olema, are ideal for beginners, and hand-led pony rides are perfect for kids. Five Brooks Trail Head, off Highway 1 three miles south of Olema, 663-1570, fivebrooks.com. After the ride, enjoy an elegant meal indoors or out at the Olema Inn. 10,000 Sir Frances Drake Blvd., 663-9559, theolemainn.com.
- Point Reyes Station
Press your nose to the glass inside Tomales Bay Foods, one of several gourmet outposts in Point Reyes Station, and watch Cowgirl Creamery cheese makers at work. Their finished products are on sale at the counter, along with cured meats, fresh fruits, and other picnic provisions. Tomales Bay Foods, 80 Fourth St., Point Reyes Station, 663-9335, cowgirlcreamery.com. Triple-cream Red Hawk, a lush cow’s-milk cheese, makes a savory companion to a rustic baguette from Bovine Bakery, about a block away (11315 Hwy. 1, 663-9420, thebovinebakery.wordpress.com). For a full meal with knockout views from every table, visit Nick’s Cove. 23240 Hwy. 1, 663-1033, nickscove.com.
A brief kayak orientation comes with the cost of rental in preparation for your paddle onto Tomales Bay, a blue-fingered inlet rimmed by pines and bluffs and populated by pelicans and harbor seals. Blue Waters Kayaking, 19225 Hwy. 1, 669-2600, bwkayak.com. After your excursion, sit outside at picnic benches and refuel on fresh shellfish at Hog Island Oyster Company, which plucks its bivalves from the waters you’ve just plied. 20215 Hwy. 1, 663-9218, hogislandoysters.com.
- Rocker Oysterfeller’s
A century-plus after the Valley Ford Hotel was built in 1864, Shona Campbell and Brandon Guenther refashioned it as a quaint seven-room inn and opened Rocker Oysterfeller’s on the ground floor. Swinging saloon doors open into this bar and restaurant, where Guenther whips up gumbo, grilled rib-eye, and other hearty grub, and Campbell, a self-proclaimed “bar wench,” pours a wide selection of Sonoma County wines. 14415 Hwy. 1, Valley Ford, (707) 876-1983, rockeroysterfellers.com. The couple also operates Sonoma Coast Fish Bank and Picnic, a quick and easy alternative next door serving clam chowder, crab Louie, and other seasonal specialties for those on the go. 14435 Hwy. 1, sonomacoastfishbank.com.
- Whale Watching
At Bodega Bay, you find yourself in the atmospheric seaside setting that Alfred Hitchcock used as his backdrop for The Birds. But the creatures to look for here are gray whales. In winter and spring they hug the coastline on their voyage south from Alaska to Baja California. You can watch their progress from Bodega Headlands (locally, "the Head"), a windswept promontory where volunteer naturalists are often on hand to provide deeper insights into what you see. bodegabay.com and stewardsofthecoastandredwoods.org.
- Bodega Bay Lodge
Spacious rooms overlook the ocean at this comfortable hotel and spa where perks include beach access and an outdoor pool and hot tub, both with views of the sea. 103 Hwy. 1, AAA.com/hotels.
Photography by Phillip Kelloff
This article was first published in December 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.